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Lai Ying-kit
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A group of youngsters are hoping to make a difference through social projects, writes Lai Ying-kit

Inspired during an innovation forum in January, 10 youngsters are taking a first step towards making a difference to their community. Influenced by the prominent change-makers who spoke at the city's first Make a Difference forum, the group has come up with three projects to address particular social issues.

The teenagers - divided into three teams - have spent the past three months working out the details of their schemes.

One project is a huge online database to match students with interesting volunteer work. The database, set up by two first-year university students, provide secondary school students with information about volunteer work and extra-curricular activities across the city.

Another project is an initiative to get talented elderly people to teach their skills, and the third project is an art campaign to inspire a more responsible way of using reusable bags.

The projects are part of the 'Dream It Do It' programme organised by the Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture and Ashoka's Youth Venture. It is aimed at encouraging young people to build a better society through innovative ways.

Each team has been given HK$5,000 by the organisers to cover operational costs, including promotion, manpower and computer installations. They are co-ordinating with social welfare groups and sponsors, and visiting secondary schools to look for volunteers.

For the online database project, the team will work with social welfare groups and film videos of volunteers in action over the next eight months.

The team believes many secondary school students are looking for such information to help them with the new senior school curriculum, which demands learning experiences from outside the classroom. At the moment, such information is limited.

'Some students are willing to do volunteer work but they don't have information to make a start,' Yeung Yat, 20, says.

We will have a section where users can rate and write comments on the listed activity. It is easier to motivate people to do something when they read what others say about it.'

All three teams are using the internet to spread their messages, setting up pages and chat threads on popular social networking groups and discussion forums.

Another team is made up of three recent graduates in their early 20s - a social worker, a communications officer and an education officer for a non-governmental organisation. They are combining their expertise to devise a platform to help elderly people.

Their project will begin with a talent hunt among the elderly. Those who are chosen will perform at community events and teach their skills to the younger generation.

'Some are good cooks with special recipes from their hometowns. Some are skilled craftsmen, and some are story-tellers. These skills are dying out,' group member Isabel Leung Sze-man says.

Five arts students from the University of Hong Kong and Baptist University are using art to encourage people to recycle reusable bags.

Under their project, bags will be given an 'artistic touch' and passed on to their friends and needy people. They hope personalising the bags can encourage people to reuse them. When disposed even reusable bags - especially those used for promotions - can release toxic substances.

The group came up with the idea when they found many households had far more 'green' shopping bags than were actually needed.

Whether their projects are successful or not, all the participants think it is important to make a start. 'Change is always possible if one is willing to take the first step,' says Solam So Wai-lam, from Baptist University. 'The most important thing is to give it a try.'

The teams say their hard work will be worth it because they will initiate change in the community. Others will benefit from what they are doing, and they will be rewarded for their efforts.

The HKICC is an organiser of the MaD forum. The teams are looking for volunteers. If you are interested, e-mail [email protected] or call Crystal Chan at 2766 3991.

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